Cecilia Nobre ELT Blog

Useful tips on how to build rapport when you’re not John Keating from Dead Poets Society


“ Consciously, we teach what we know; unconsciously, we teach who we are.” Hamacheck (1999, p.209)

I recently watched a video on social media that blew my mind and got me thinking of how important establishing rapport with our students is. You might have seen the video of a teacher in the US who uses a personalized greeting with each student before they get in the classroom ( if you haven’t watched it yet, it’s here).

I would have loved to be one of his students. He truly shows he cares about his pupils.

He goes on and says “we pride ourselves on high expectations and in meaningful relationships.It’s more than a handshake, it’s about impacting the student in the most positive way.

Never underrate the values of relationships, with anyone.

So what can a gesture like that teach us? Do we have to teach a morning routine and remember 40 different greetings by heart to build rapport with students?

My answer would be “not quite”( obviously), but there’s much more that lies in that gesture, and I think that shouldn’t go unnoticed.

Why rapport matters

For the last 5 years, all my experience has revolved around 1:1 lessons and ultimately, I gauge the effectiveness of my lessons most by the rapport I’ve built with my students.

No, I don’t think myself as the know-it-all but, after all these years, I know myself and my teaching style well enough to evaluate why I get so many word-of-mouth referrals and the return of former students.

Mind you, I’m no Pollyanna and I don’t get on with every and any student.

Last year I had a private student for 3 or 4 months. There was nothing wrong with her, except that there was no bond between us. She didn’t laugh or smile, she didn’t want to engage in small talk at the beginning of the lesson, she didn’t let me get to know her better. Teaching her became a drag, and I eventually quit and recommended another teacher to her because I didn’t want to force the teacher-student relationship.

The magic either happens or it doesn’t. It may take some time, but it has to happen at some point.

Is rapport an essential component of good teaching, or is there a danger that it substitutes for good teaching?

…asked Scott Thornbury in his blog. I’ll be gutsy to answer that rapport is an essential component of good teaching – at least it works for me. I’m not the most knowledgeable or skilled teacher, but I pride myself on the positive relationships I’ve collected with my current and former students.

For me, the keys words here are care and enthusiasm.

You know the saying “Nobody cares how much you know until they know how much you care.” I truly believe in that.

Showing  the importance of our own identities as teachers

Our identities show what we value and how we can relate these characteristics to our professional behaviour. Also, can we separate our personal and professional self?

Once I asked my student how she dealt with meetings at work ( she is a sweet and outspoken kind of person) and she replied “the same way I deal with friends in a social gathering…I’m not a different person. I find it funny when people say they can separate their professional and personal lives, I can’t”. That happened over a year ago, and it got stuck in my mind.

So here are my tips on how I build rapport with my students, I think they may work for you. Bear in mind they’re related to one-to-one teaching. However, I believe most of the ideas can be applied to big groups as well.


Source:  ABC News Go

How can we foster that special bond with our students?

1.Be genuine and honest with yourself and your student

Show enthusiasm, passion and model behaviour. Have your students’ best interests at heart.  Thoughtful teachers are genuinely interested in their students’ lives, opinions and especially their feelings about how things are going in the course. Have you noticed there’s a change in tone and some excitement that comes through in the way we speak?

I love travelling, and I see my students’ excitement when they come back from a long holiday or trip abroad. As I am genuinely interested ( and curious, of course!), I make sure to ask and let them tell me all about their trips, sometimes the first lesson after they arrive from a trip is just…about the trip! They usually show me photos, tell me about the awkward or funny moments, how they got on with speaking English.

2. Truly listen to your student and build empathy

Respond to them and try to go beyond “surface mistakes”. Remember things they have said and cross refer students’ contributions can show how much you care beyond classroom observation.

What does their body language say? How about their tone of voice? Do they fidget?

3. Remember their names

That’s a no-brainer, but it’s so important! Also, make sure you know how to pronounce their names in case they sound a little different from what you are used to. I can’t remember how many times I’ve been called “Celia,” “Patricia” or “Leticia.” Or the worst…”hey” without being addressed by my name. Annoying!

4. Show respect and validate your students’ opinions

This is a two-way street. There’s no room for judgemental messages or opinions from us. Say, do they have a different point of view from you about Donald Trump? Well, deal with it.

I love tackling PARNIPS issues and showing respect is my number one rule for creating an unthreatening and supportive environment amongst my students.

5. Focus on their goals and be structured

Choose your materials carefully and enjoy them. Show professionalism, be well-organised and well-prepared.I find it particularly important to communicate high expectations with students. If students perceive they can complete a task successfully, they are more likely to continue on task. After all, demonstrating caring actions spurred students to greater personal and academic accomplishments.

6. Get to know your student beyond their names and jobs

Try your best personalise to a context in their lives for the language. Statements such as, “Hi, Daniel, are you okay?” “How was your weekend?” and “Are you planning to do anything exciting on the weekend/ holiday?” reflect the teacher’s sincere interest in their learners. Ask how- when-why questions.

These positive interpersonal behaviours, where teachers spend time talking to students about their personal or social issues, promote a sense of belonging and strengthen a bond between teacher and student.

7. Use social media to lower pressure and engage them outside lesson times

I encourage them to widely use Whatsapp or Facebook, and I have recently found out Edmodo for assigning tasks. If I find an interesting post or video which relates to my students’ interests, I usually tag them with a statement such as ” I saw this video and thought of you. This dog is as cute as yours” ( say your student is a dog lover and usually tells you stories of their dog’s adventures).

8. Talk about yourself, chitchat ( but not too much!)

Show imperfections, make mistakes, let them teach you what they know best. Unlike some teachers, I don’t think you will get into hot water for blurring the boundaries of the teacher-student relationship. As long as you don’t bore or spend a long time talking about yourself and your life, I see chitchatting as a positive element. Most of my students are curious about my life, I’m sure yours are curious as well.

Once my student told me she was going to the US and she was excited about buying some brand make up. As a makeup lover myself, I gave some recommendations to her – she loved it and jotted down everything. In the end, she asked me if I wanted her to bring any makeup item. So now I’ve got a lovely new concealer and found out we share the same interest.

9. Praise genuinely

Give students the chance to prepare or just think before speaking. Make them aware of what they do well. Give clear and positive feedback.

10. Personalise the lesson but don’t be invasive

Allow them to share what they want to share, but do not expose your students. Some topics may be sensitive, and we should be aware of them. Allow them to tell or weave stories, talk about their dreams. Address their concerns during class time.

11. Use humour and smile 

I always greet my students with a smile to show how happy I am to be there with them. Simple but effective. Similarly, I find that a good sense of humour can open doors to your students’ hearts and allow your learners to relax and joke around a bit. Wouldn’t you feel a bit intimidated if your teacher was serious during 60 minutes? I know I would.

How about you? How do you build rapport with your students?

Shakespeare Behind Bars – A conversation lesson plan

Today I’m trying out a new tool, inspired by my talented friends and teachers Cristina Cabal and Bruno Andrade: Spark Adobe.

You can open the lesson here.

It’s so much fun and reasonably easy to use!

I came across this video about this redemptive programme Shakespeare behind bars and it was mind blowing! My first thought was “how have I not heard of this before?” but my second thought was “I gotta make a lesson plan out of it!”. If you want to learn more about this programme, I highly recommend this link and this video.

I hope this story touches you the same way it touched me. It gives lots of food for thought for our students, to say the least.

Teachers’ Notes

For: Adults

Level: B2 students or above

Type of lesson: Discussion

Time: 1 hour

Aim: A discussion where students decide whether performing Shakespeare plays might be a solution for the prison crisis.

Language point: Functional language such as agreeing, disagreeing and turn taking

Screen 1:  Photos contrast ( Warm-up)

(Pair Work)Teacher shows 2 pictures of a Shakespeare’s play, without telling who the actors are. Ask students: What do they have in common? How might they be different?

Collect opinions from students.

The actors in the first picture are prisoners and the actor in the second picture is professional.

Screen 2: Vocabulary Match ( Pre-reading)

Highlight the pronunciation of bellow /ˈbɛləʊ/, screech /skrtʃ/, vermin /vɜːʳmɪn/ and inmate /ɪnmeɪt/.

Answers ( from top down) – 6 – 2 – 1 – 5 – 3- 4

Screen 3: Reading  “English prisons in grip of crisis”

Students read the questions first then read the text ( scanning)

Suggested answers to questions 1, 2, 3. The last question is personal

1 – staff cuts, a rising jail population and increasing availability of drug

2- After drilling through their cell bars with diamond-tipped cutters and stuffing their beds with pillows to mimic sleeping bodies. ( Ensure they understand what “diamond-tipped cutters” are by showing a picture of them)

3- Because it has become more routine as violence and disorder spread across the prison estate.

Screen 4: Pre-listening for details

Students should read the sentences and then carefully watch the video to find out whether the themes will be mentioned. Teachers might want to play the video twice.

  • Inmates are excited to be part of this programme – True
  • Inmates would like their families to attend the plays – Not mentioned
  • The types of crimes they have committed – True 
  • The inmates are rehearsing the play – True 
  • Negative reviews of the play – False 
  • A nasty relationship between two inmates  – False 


Screen 5:  Discussion

This is the icing on the cake. After reading and watching the video, students will hopefully possess more critical views on the sensitive topic of prison crisis.

Is “Shakespeare behind bars” a possible solution to the chaos installed in many prisons across the world?

Make sure they understand the meaning of recidivism /rɪˈsɪdɪˌvɪzəm/

Let students speak freely with their peers and monitor the interactions.



Thanks for reading.

Interview with Rachael Roberts

I have been stalking following Rachael Roberts’steps for quite some time in different media:  Twitter, her fantastic blog and through the Teaching English British Council’s Blog, where she often writes as well. She’s one of my ELT’s Divas.

I was quite nervous before our interview, but after our first greeting, she immediately put me at ease.

Watch Rachael talk about blogging as a CPD tool, Action Research, Lesson Observations, material writing, amongst other things. I have learnt loads, and I hope you can learn with this interview, too.

Watch part 1 here.

Watch part 2 here.

Check out the book Rachael co-wrote with other ELT experts, How to Write Excellent ELT Materials.

Thanks for watching and reading.



How to create lesson content for online ESL lessons

Hello and Happy 2017! 
It’s Monday, January 2nd and I have already delivered my first online lesson of the year. What about you? 
In this first post of 2017 I have the pleasure to introduce Kris Jagasia. Some of you may already know him: Kris is one of the creators of the successful online teaching platform, Off2Class . He shares some useful tips on how to create online lessons and what things teachers should bear in mind before doing so. 
Thanks a lot, Kris! 


Hello, teachers! My name is Kris Jagasia. My colleague, James Heywood and I have been producing content for our online ESL lessons for the last four years. We started the journey into content creation for our own online teaching venture in early 2012.

At the time, we were spending hours combing the web on sites like Dave’s ESL Café and Busy Teacher looking for ESL content designed for online classrooms. We were struggling to find lesson content that we could use! Eventually, we gave up and started making our own. That experience eventually led to the development of our own ESL Teacher Toolkit for teachers working in digital environments.

Today I would like to outline a couple of the things I’ve learned about how to create content for online ESL lessons. Specifically, the differences between an online classroom and a traditional classroom and how these affect the style of content that works best in this new environment.

How is an online classroom different to a bricks-and-mortar classroom?

The online ESL classroom presents some challenges for content creation. Content designed for the bricks-and-mortar classroom is not necessarily transferable into an online environment. Here are some key differences that you should keep in mind when you create content for online ESL lessons:

Content in an online classroom (such as on Skype, Hangouts or Zoom.us) takes up 90%+ of your student’s visual field. It is much more central to the lesson than a course book or handout in a traditional classroom. Your student will be focusing on the content and it will drive the flow of your lesson.

Implications: Online lesson content must be bright and engaging. Don’t try to put too many words, examples or concepts on any one slide. Make sure you highlight key takeaways. Ensure that the content is adaptive (i.e. you can alter the path the lesson takes if your student is responding to it in an unexpected fashion). Leave lots of room for follow-on concept checking if your student is responding very well to certain slides (or pages).

Mobile is becoming increasingly popular. Love it or hate it, some of your students will be joining your lessons from mobile devices.

Implications: Do not try to fit too many words, images or concepts onto any one slide (or page). Keep things uncluttered! It is always safer to lean towards fewer words on a page (and more slides) than the opposite.

You can control what portion of your screen (or screens) your student sees. If you’re using the screen-sharing feature on your video conference system to share content for your lessons, you can choose to share specific applications rather than your entire desktop. This means you can access your Teacher Notes synchronously, without having to take your eye off of your student or lesson content.

Implications: Try to develop a synchronous set of Teacher Notes (that your students don’t see) for each of your slides. These Teacher Notes should contain additional ideas on how to elicit and concept check the target language. This will help you keep the slide content uncluttered and your word count down!


Interested in creating your own content?

If you’re interested in creating your own content for online ESL lessons, please take advantage of our free PPT Lesson Plan Template. It’s a step-by-step guide with a variety of slide examples that we developed while building our own 570 ESL lessons.

Last June, we also held a webinar for the italki teacher community covering a number of the points listed above in greater detail. You can access the webinar here.

And one more thing. Don’t forget to share your creations with your colleagues! It’s the best way to get honest feedback and ideas for improving your own online lesson content.